Substitute teachers make their mark too

Published 4:04 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2011

By JASON MAYFIELD / Guest Columnist

I was told substitute teaching would be the easiest $50 I would ever make. This was before one of my students almost caught on fire. In the fall of 2002, I was lured into subbing, less from the promise of easy money than from the need to figure out what to do with my life.

Thanks to Mary White, then principal at Oak Mountain Middle School, I discovered my dream job, teaching. I knew becoming a teacher was for me after one of my first conversations at the teachers’ table. (Note: One of the first conversations at the teachers’ table when I wasn’t in trouble — or a student).

“So you must be subbing for Mrs. Blah.” (Note: The teacher’s name was never Mrs. Blah, but some of those teachers I first subbed for called at 4 a.m., and I’m still rather upset, so Mrs. Blahs, they’ll be called).“Yes, she sounded pretty bad this morning.”

“Well, you’ve got guts subbing. I don’t think I’d ever want to go to a new classroom every day relying on someone else’s lesson plans to keep kids busy.”

Strange as it was though, I enjoyed it. I loved the administrative support and encouragement I got at OMMS. I admired the kids I met in AP English at Vincent High School who reintroduced me to the joys of reading “Macbeth.”

I learned all I’ll ever likely learn from welding from a day at the School of Technology.

(Note: The lesson was that students new to welding shouldn’t blow their torch toward their clothing or else they’ll catch fire. Thankfully, about the only fire I have to concern myself about as a middle school literature teacher is the book “Catching Fire” in The Hunger Games series).

Substitute teachers, like the students in public education, come from all walks of life and with all sorts of motivation.

Some sub for the day while they work on a doctorate at night. Some work to support their children’s school. A select few are even retired teachers. One of the greatest joys of the fall was seeing in the halls of Columbiana Middle venerated former sixth-grade science teacher Marcia Murrah.

Mrs. Murrah brought teachers and students to tears last year with her retirement. Her return, in a new room for a new teacher every time, has been a welcomed surprise, just the sort of welcomed spark that a good substitute can bring.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.